Rise Above the Politicians: Debate for Success, Not Stalemate

Originally published: 09.01.11 by Terry Tanker

Debate for Success, Not Stalemate.

Like many of you, I have been appalled by the immaturity displayed by federal and state politicians this year as they set about “changing things” in government. Many of those politicians were elected specifically to make change; others felt the traditional status quo was the right direction, and I applaud them for sticking to their principles. But what I didn’t like was how they handled themselves as leaders. Rarely did I hear anyone speak with authority about specifics. Their reliance on exaggeration and hyperbole to make their points and persuade on-the-fence voters and colleagues tended to be insulting.

We live in highly diverse country that celebrates freedom of thought, speech, and commerce. We are unique because of this, and we are strong. Public debate is our honored tradition, and participants should respect that process by telling the truth in a clear and confident voice that we can all trust.

Pretty basic stuff, right? Apparently not. 

In business, we don’t use the term debate that much. We have discussions, brainstorming sessions and negotiations. Sometimes though, we need a debate as to which strategy is best as well as which course of action will move us ahead and in the right direction. Properly debated and documented decisions can move leaders forward with a plan of action that is supported by all, instead of a stalemate that leaves everyone dissatisfied. 

I recently came across some advice on how to hold a fruitful debate from Audrey Wong Chung, founder of luxury-goods company Beliza Design and a business leader who has had lots of experience bringing diverse people with diverse views together for positive results. Here are her six tips on “rallying stakeholders in a collaborative effort to avoid a stalemate.”

1. Define the common goal. What are you trying to accomplish as a group? It’s more difficult to argue the “highest good” goal than it is the detailed activities and tasks proposed to achieve the goal. Having the goal clearly defined is a great way to bring the collaborative efforts back to focus.

2. Take initiative. Be brave. Share authentically your thoughts. Some of the best and most innovative ideas and inventions were shots in the dark.

3. Be compassionate and respectful when providing feedback on each party’s ideas and thoughts. Don’t just dismiss an idea if it seems foreign or far-fetched to you. Respect the new ideas. Out of these new ideas, evolution often occurs.

4. Listen with your heart as well as your ears. Try to understand the intent or rationale behind statements. Don’t listen only with your brain and analyze the grammar and semantics; this is especially helpful when dealing with parties from different backgrounds and cultures. Remember, don’t get lost in the weeds.

5. Above all, remember that you are all together to work toward a common goal. We are all in this together, and the underlying motive is to do the best thing for the group. Understanding that will lessen the chance of fear-based reactions such as judgment, ridicule, and anger.

This is great advice in professional or personal relationships. Moving forward is good for everyone, and being frozen in indecision is bad for everyone. Be open and give other ideas a chance in exchange for the same. Sometimes success is found in expected ways.

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